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May 27, 2010 Bangorbiz

Bangor gun maker sets its sights on national growth

Photo/Doug Kesseli Cory McDonald, sales manager for MGI, a gun manufacturer in Bangor
Photo/Doug Kesseli Ryan Nyer, vice president of Maine Military Supply Inc. in Brewer

Despite a rich pedigree in the firearms industry and a unique product to offer, Bangor-based gun manufacturer MGI has found it slow going in making a big name for itself. But that should be changing, sales manager Cory McDonald says, as the manufacturer ramps up its efforts to increase its name recognition and solidify its place in the small arms arena.

"We are growing at a rapid rate," he says.

McDonald, who heads up a team of about a dozen part-time sales reps and serves as tech and production support, projects the company will increase sales 40%-50% each year for the next four to five years. The company, one of a handful of gun makers in the state, has sold its guns to the Bangor and Milo police departments and the Penobscot County Sheriff's Office.

Although it produces a number of gun parts, the company's flagship product is a modular assault rifle called the Hydra that allows the user to change the barrel and magazine well and therefore change the ammunition caliber without tools and in about 90 seconds. While other gun systems have interchangeable barrels, the Hydra -- named for the mythological beast with many heads -- is easier to use, making it unique in the market, says McDonald.

MGI was founded by Mack Gwinn Jr., a former Special Forces officer with more than three decades in the industry and creator of the Bushmaster firearms. A November 1974 Bangor Daily News article featured Gwinn when he began selling the Bushmaster pistol -- which the paper described as "a cross between a Russian assault rifle and a James bond pistol" -- from an office at the Bomarc Industrial Park. The company is now headed by Mack Gwinn III.

Much of the company's slow growth has been self-imposed, McDonald says. MGI chose to use its time and resources to fine tune its products rather than on increased marketing.

"The biggest thing that we've had to overcome as a small business is helping people understand it, see it, handle it," McDonald says. "It's dramatically different than anything that has ever been out there and it is hard for people to accept and believe that it works as well as it does."

Ryan Nyer, vice president of Maine Military Supply Inc., a firearms, ammunitions and equipment retailer based in Brewer, agrees that MGI has a lot of leg work ahead of it.

At about $2,500, the Hydra is twice the price of a non-modular weapon, and though it may come with many conveniences, it can be a tough sell to the budget conscious and those who need convincing that one rifle can do the work of many. So far Nyer has only sold two Hydras in the last two years. "They are going to have to get their name out there," says Nyer.

To bolster MGI's name recognition, McDonald has been attending national gun shows, including the National Rifle Association meeting in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month. The company is working out details with a large distributor that he says will "put us over the top."

The successes of MGI would create a ripple effect in Maine, since most of the parts are produced at Machining Innovations in Oakland, while Silvex in Westbrook does all the metal anodizing for the Hydras. "Anything that we have to have manufactured we pretty much keep in the state of Maine to boost our economy," McDonald says. "It's not necessarily the cheapest for us but it helps us as well."

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